Leverage Your Listening“Initially, I wanted to be the CEO because I wanted to make the decisions,” says John Edwardson, CEO of CDW, in a video on ChicagoBusiness.com. “And one of the lessons I learned a long time ago was that if you make all the decisions, nobody will want to work for you. And so you learn that you make fewer decisions the higher up you go in the organization.”

Edwardson, formerly an airline executive, recounts an important conversation he once had with the company’s CEO. “‘John,’ he said, ‘you may be the smartest officer of Northwest Airlines. But you’re too critical, you’re too judgmental and you work too hard to try to convince people that your opinion is the right opinion and the best way to do things.'” Instead of smothering colleagues and employees with your own ideas, advised his boss, learn how to listen.

Allowing others to make decisions didn’t come easily to Edwardson, but he began to let those he managed do things their way—as long as it didn’t cost more than $500,000. (He has since upped that cap to $5 million.) “[You] tell people you have a different idea,” he says. “They usually work so hard to prove you wrong that their idea turns out being successful because they want to … prove to you that they can do it.” The management philosophy helped to push CDW revenues from $4 billion in 2001 to $8.1 billion in 2007.

Your Marketing Inspiration comes from Ben McConnell at the Church of the Customer Blog: “If a company’s culture is a reflection of a CEO’s personality, then CDW is one of those companies where employee loyalty is based not just on financial goals, but in a shared ownership of the process along the way—a great pathway to customer evangelism.”

Skip Sommer